Ensemble for Medieval Music. Benjamin Bagby, Director

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Program Archive

Lost Songs of a Rhineland Harper

IV. The Harper in the Underworld

Felix qui potuit boni

(Rhineland, early 11c)

Another song from the "Consolation of Philosophy" of Boethius. It tells the story of the mythological singer and harper Orpheus, describing his daring voyage into the realm of the dead to rescue his beloved wife, Eurydice, through the power of song. The fact that this song turns up in the Rhineland harper's collection attests to the power of the Orpheus myth in musical circles throughout the early Middle Ages.

Text: (Refrain:) Happy is he who can look into the shining spring of goodness; happy is he who can break the heavy chains of earth.

Long ago the Thracian poet, Orpheus, mourned for his dead wife. With his sorrowful music he made the woodlands dance and the rivers stand still. He made the fearful deer lie down bravely with the fierce lions; the rabbit no longer feared the dog, quieted by his song.

But as the sorrow burned within his breast, the music which calmed all nature could not console its maker. Finding the gods unbending, he went to the regions of hell. There, he sang sweet songs to the music of his harp...songs inspired by his powerless grief and the love which doubled his grief. Hell is moved to pity when, with his melodious prayer, he begs the favour of those shades. The three-headed guardian of the gate is paralyzed by that new song; and the Furies are touched and weep in pity....At last, the judge of souls, moved by pity, declares, "We are conquered. We return this man to his wife, his companion, purchased by his song. But our gift is bound by the condition that he must not look back until he has left hell."But who can give lovers a law? Love is a stronger law unto itself. As they approached the edge of night, Orpheus looked back at Eurydice, lost her, and killed her.

This fable applies to all of you who seek to raise your minds to sovreign day. For whoever is conquered and turns his eyes to the pit of hell, looking into the inferno, loses all the good he has gained.

(Translation: Richard Green [abridged])

Upcoming Concerts

29 October 2021, 7.30 pm
Friends of Chamber Music Kansas City, Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City, USA
Benjamin Bagby's Beowulf

22 to 26 November 2021
Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, France
Workshop n°2 Roman de Fauvel – part III

8 December 2021
Actus humanus, Main town Hall, Gdansk, Poland
Benjamin Bagby's Beowulf (60 mins.)

18 to 26 march 2022
Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, France
Roman de Fauvel – part III, mise en scène: Peter Sellar

See full concert schedule



Benjamin Bagby's teaching activities in 2019

In March 2019, Benjamin will give two weekend courses on the solo songs of Philippe le Chancelier (d. 1236). The courses are being hosted by the Centre de Musique Médiévale de Paris. Dates: 9-10 and 30-31 March.
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After retiring from his teaching position at the University of Paris - Sorbonne, where he taught between 2005 and 2018 in the professional masters program, Benjamin Bagby continues to travel widely in 2019 to teach practical workshops for young professionals:

Folkwang Universität der Künste (Essen-Werden, Germany).
Benjamin has joined the faculty of this renowned masters program for liturgical chant performance and medieval music. The dates of his courses in 2019: 5-7 April; 26-28 April; 17-19 May; 30 May–01 June.
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For the second year in a row, Benjamin will teach an intensive course in the 8th International Course on Medieval Music Performance (Besalú, Spain): Songs of the troubadours (for singers and instrumentalists).
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Amherst Early Music Festival (Connecticut College, New London CT) 21-28 July:
An intensive course on the solo cansos of the Occitan troubadours, with a focus on songs from the great Milan songbook Bibl. Ambr. R71 sup. (for singers and instrumentalists).
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